Calling a monumentally successful comedian who just appeared in Netflix’s first-ever live broadcast (which went on to be the streamer’s most watched show of the past week) lousy at anything is clearly my own attempt at humor.
However, in the opening minutes of Selective Outrage, his standup special, Rock offered his take on cause marketing and socially responsible companies and got it completely wrong.
“Everybody in business, they don’t even tell you about the product no more,” Rock said. “They just tell you how much charity they do.”
Regarding that particular aspect of companies trying to be good corporate citizens, he refers to an ad from automaker Subaru. “It said, ‘For every Subaru we sell, we will donate $250 to your favorite charity.’ Subaru, you want to help me out? Why don’t you just sell me the car for $250 less? I’m my favorite charity!”
As for companies attempting to be explicit about their values, Rock had this to say, “In the window of every Lululemon there’s a sign that says, ‘We don’t support racism, sexism, discrimination or hate.’ Who gives a ****. You’re just selling yoga pants. I don’t need your yoga pants politics…They sell $100 yoga pants. Correction…they sell $100 non-racist yoga pants. I think I speak for the entire audience tonight when I say, most people in this crowd would prefer a pair of $20 racist yoga pants.”
As a joke, that last line worked well, based on the crowd reaction. But coupled with the remark about being his own favorite charity, it fails as a marketing critique.
We, unlike the comedian, know from countless research studies that consumers respond incredibly well to cause marketing programs and that they want to feel good about who they are buying from in addition to liking a product’s features, performance and price.
Rock is either being cynical in the name of art, or, more likely, his remarks reflect his actual opinions about cause marketing and CSR. Born on the cusp of the Baby Boom, he—and if he’s correct, many in his audience—are of the cohort (age 58 and older) least likely to be positively impacted by corporations’ efforts to do good.
And that is where Rock offers marketers a practical reminder. (I was going to say slap in the face, but…) Personal preferences (favorite sport) or opinions (social media is a waste of time) must not get in the way of a brand or organization doing what consumers, fans and other audiences want.
In Rock’s case they may make for great comedy, but for the rest of us, they nearly always will be bad for business.